Fleeing failure

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Perusing through my old blog this morning for writing samples for a spirituality column and found this goodie from 04/19/09:

“Yeah, so the article said that when it comes to failure, there are two types of people;” my friend told me as she popped a piece of sushi in her mouth. She’s degreed in biology, and is forever feeding me fascinating tidbits on the wonders of creation. “There are those that deny failure. They blame, they avoid, they insist it wasn’t their fault, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’re being picked on, you name it.”

“Right. Prison is full of those.” I replied.

We laughed. “Right. Nothing changes for these deniers. The brain stays the same- no development.”

My eyes were wide, eager, as I dipped my roll in the wasabi-soaked sauce. Dichotomies, or dividing issues into two opposing categories, always make me suspicious. Not only is Life typically more complicated, thinking in dualities polarizes and divides us as people- pushing us to abandon middle ground and move to the extremes of left or right, this or that, for or against. I was ready to try to expand the two categories; to diversify.

“Then there are those that accept failure. They face it. Facing it and accepting it changes their brain. It opens neural pathways and pushes development forward.”

I lowered my chopsticks and sat back in the booth. “SubhanAllah.”

“Yeah, ’cause they’re looking to see ‘What did I do wrong?’ asking themselves ‘How can I do better?’ It changes you.”

So we don’t just learn from our mistakes, we need mistakes to learn.

For more than a decade, I have meditated heavily on the story of Adam and Eve. Indeed, the Qur’an’s insight into them was tremendously affirming for me and certainly played a role in my conversion. I had long seen the doctrine of Original Sin as being inherently evil in the way that it distances us from God, pushes us to identify with our egos instead of God’s Breath as the Truth of who we are, and justifies corrupt behavior (after all, if we are corrupt at our core, can we really ever hope to be anything other than corrupt? But if we have God’s Breath at our core, then evil is something we can win over and leave behind). I did not see any justification for Original Sin in the story of Adam and Eve. In fact, I read that story very differently from how I’d been taught.

The real problem was not so much that they ate the fruit- surely God knew that they would- the problem was that they did not take responsibility for what they had done. Adam blamed God and Eve, Eve blamed the snake. No one admitted to what they had done, no one repented.

When we refuse to acknowledge our mistakes, we begin engaging in all sorts of behaviors to justify ourselves, and this puts a distance between us and God. It affects our relationship with ourselves and with others. The word “Eden” means “Bliss”. So we can see that the story is showing us how we remove ourselves from the Bliss of God’s Presence when we refuse to take responsibility for our actions, when we don’t accept our failures. Blame blocks Bliss.

To return to the Garden, we need to face Truth and undergo purification. In the Genesis story, this is symbolized by the angel with the flaming sword guarding the gate. The Qur’an is very straightforward: Adam and Eve repented and were forgiven. They continued on to Earth, as was always the intention, and God provided sustenance and guidance.

The way the lines of Genesis are colored in by the Qur’an relieves us of the guilt attached to living on this planet, and assures us that it was always meant to be so. The stigma of making mistakes is lifted; “They slipped” is all that is said. We are assured on a variety of levels: making mistakes is part of being human, the Earth is not a prison but was always our intended dwelling place, and forgiveness is ours for the asking.

I had understood for quite some time that making the mistake was an integral part of the story- that, somehow, they could not go to the Earth until they did… but I didn’t understand why. In hearing the role that facing our mistakes and accepting failure plays in our brain’s development, so much falls into place.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. No wonder God tells us that if we cease to make mistakes and repent for them He will create a people that will… that we all make mistakes and the best of those that make mistakes are those who repent: to accept failure is to move forward. To move forward is to come closer to God. To become rigid, immersed in blame, afraid of change and failure, and convinced of our own piousness is to halt our development and begin moving away from God towards spiritual and intellectual death.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. How gloriously liberating! What a smack in the face of the Whisperer that is forever telling us how damned we are because we are not perfect. We needn’t ever be ashamed for making a mistake- only in not ADMITTING that we have made a mistake. Failure is not the problem, denying failure is the problem.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. What a demonstration of God’s Grace woven so intricately into our creation. God is indeed Greater- greater in Mercy and Forgiveness than we can even imagine.

As I saw in an article title: “Failure is not an option–Its Require

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